Antarctic glaciers are moving towards the sea ‘100 percent’ faster than previously thought

‘Significant’ consequences for sea levels as scientists discover Antarctic glaciers are slipping towards the ocean ‘100 PERCENT’ faster than previously thoughtStudy shows glaciers headed toward sea 100 percent faster than once thoughtThis is the first time surface melting was shown to affect impacts of glacier flowFindings will have a ‘significant’ impact on projections of sea level rise  By…

‘Significant’ consequences for sea levels as scientists discover Antarctic glaciers are slipping towards the ocean ‘100 PERCENT’ faster than previously thought

  • Study shows glaciers headed toward sea 100 percent faster than once thought
  • This is the first time surface melting was shown to affect impacts of glacier flow
  • Findings will have a ‘significant’ impact on projections of sea level rise  

By James Pero For

Published: 18:21, 20 September 2019 | Updated: 20:15, 20 September 2019

An explosive new study shows that surface meltwater is causing a sudden and rapid acceleration in the flow of Glaciers toward the sea – a harbinger for rapid sea level rises.

According to a new study published in Nature Communications, the finding is the first time scientists have correlated surface melting to impacts on the flow of glaciers in Antarctica.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield discovered that meltwater is causing some glaciers to move at speeds 100 percent faster than average – up to 400 meters per year – for a period of several days multiple times per year. 

The concerning new findings were discovered by using imagery and data from satellites alongside regional climate modelling. 

Scroll down for video. 

Surface meltwater draining through the ice and beneath Antarctic glaciers is causing sudden and rapid accelerations in their flow towards the sea, according to new research

Glaciers move downhill due to gravity via the internal deformation of ice, and basal sliding where they slide over the ground beneath them, lubricated by liquid water.

The new research shows that accelerations in Antarctic Peninsula glaciers’ movements coincide with spikes in snowmelt. 

When the meltwater penetrates the ice bed, it melts the formation and lubricates glacier flow, meaning the more snow that melts on top of the glacier, the faster it slides into the ocean. 


In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have correlated the affects of surface meltwater on the movement of glaciers toward the sea.

According to satellite images analyzed by scientists, the glaciers are accelerating into the sea 100 percent faster than previously thought. 

They say the findings could have drastic impacts on the rise of sea levels across the globe.  

Scientists say that as temperatures continue to rise in the Antarctic, surface melting will occur more frequently and across a wider area further accelerating the speed at which glaciers move towards the sea.

The study portends a frightening fate for the future of Antarctica and its glaciers, especially when coupled with recent findings on other glaciers like Thwaites. 

Earier this month, the ice shelf of Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier was found to be melting much faster than previously thought and is now nearly a quarter thinner than it was back in 1970s.

The thinning of the shelf — the part where the glacier meets and floats atop the sea — by warm ocean water could one day lead to the shelf itself collapsing.   

Earlier this year, scientists discovered global warming has caused the melting of the ice on the continent to increase sixfold since 1979.

This phenomenal rate of melting has seen global sea levels rise by more than half an inch – and experts predict it will get worse.

Scientists have predicted a ‘multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries’ as a result of the vast loss of ice.

Researchers discovered that, between 1970 and 1990, the continent was shedding an average of 40 gigatons of ice mass annually.

This jumped to an average of 252 gigatons a year between 2009 and 2017.

Ultimately, researchers predict that glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula will behave like those in present-day Greenland and Alaska, where meltwater controls the size and timing of variations in glacier flow across seasons and years.

Effects of a major shift in Antarctic glacier melt on ice flow have yet to be  incorporated into the models used to predict the future of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and its contribution to sea level rise. 

Antarctica is losing ice at an alarming rate six times greater than in 1979 thanks to climate change according to previous studies (stock image)

‘Our research shows for the first time that surface meltwater is getting beneath glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula – causing short bursts of sliding towards the sea 100 per cent faster than normal,’ said Jeremy Ely, Independent Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography and author of the study.

‘As atmospheric temperatures continue to rise, we expect to see more surface meltwater than ever, so such behavior may become more common in Antarctica.

‘It’s crucial that this factor is considered in models of future sea level rise, so we can prepare for a world with fewer and smaller glaciers.’ 

According to Pete Tuckett, who made the discovery while studying for his Masters in Polar and Alpine Change at the University of Sheffield, the research is the first-of-its-kind to focus on Antarctica.

‘The direct link between surface melting and glacier flow rates has been well documented in other regions of the world, but this is the first time we have seen this coupling anywhere in Antarctica.

‘Given that atmospheric temperatures, and hence surface melt rates, in Antarctica are predicted to increase, this discovery could have significant implications for future rates of sea level rise.’ 

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